Christmas

globeI love the Doctor Who Christmas specials.  In fact, those episodes tipped the scales when I was deciding whether to invest my time in a program that’s about to be 50-years-old.  But there was simply no way I could shun a program that devotes an hour every December at Christmastime.  I don’t review Doctor Who episodes on my blog; there are plenty of other resources for that on the Internet.  But, for whatever it is worth, my favorite Christmas Special is “The Next Doctor”, which aired in December 2008.  It’s not the most popular of the specials, but it resonates with me.  My favorite Doctor Who episodes are the ones where The Doctor and his Companion stay right here on little ol’ Earth, traveling back to some romantic era of our own past.  And while I’ve never been a fan of the Cybermen, the character of Miss Mercy Hartigan has to be one of the best villains the show has come up with.  She is such a … femme fatale.  You can’t help but to love her and hate her.

Ah, Christmas.  The snow, the icicles, the reindeer.  The gifts!

The Christmas holiday creates its own form of time travel for me.  It takes me back to my childhood days on “The Mountain” here in Huntsville.  If you’ve been there you know what I mean.  We lived in a Federal-style, red-brick house with huge, multi-paned picture windows adorning the front.  Mom and Dad and my brother would get a real tree with real sap, decorate it right after Thanksgiving with colored lights (I prefer white lights now, but I was only a preschooler then), and position it so the folks at the Methodist Church at the end of the block could enjoy it.  And enjoy it they did.  We’d have people dropping by at all hours, wrapped in coats and scarves, bringing us finger foods, homemade breads and (no kidding) fruit cakes.

And while this was during the turbulent late 60s there was an Eisenhower-esque 1950s’ feel to our culture up there then.  I know we were sheltered and naÏve, but isn’t that what home is for?  Life is a complex and painful dance set to music that is often off-key.  Sometimes your feet ache simply from dancing too much.  I look back on those days in wonder: Is there anything wrong with having a comfort zone?  I don’t think there is.

Did the child that I was then — sitting under the tree, chin propped on his hands, eyes bright and glistening from the glow of the Christmas globe hanging from the lowest branch of that stately pine — know there was a TV program in the UK about a time-traveling lunatic who’d still be entertaining us half-a-century later?  Of course not.  That little boy didn’t think he’d even make it till Christmas Eve without bursting.  It was perfect.  It was ideal.  But did it last?  Actually, it did.  Christmastime at the Parkers’ was idyllic, restful and fun, just as a holiday should be.  Christmas has never lost an ounce of its charm, even now, as my beard goes a little gray and I look at life through a jaded prism, because the light through that prism, no matter how attenuated, still glows red and green.  At least it does for me.

Until next time,

Peace, from Keith

Copyright © 2013, Keith Parker

Humour

cartoon-ghost-clip-art-vector-online-royalty-free-public-funny.jpg

EDIT: The BBC announced today that Peter Capaldi will play the twelfth Doctor.  We, of course, knew this beforehand and after-hand and simultaneous-hand.  It’s really hard to surprise time travelers.  Now, on with the post …

This week’s Fish and TARDIS Sauce newsletter will look at the use of humor in Doctor Who, and ways that you might be able to apply this technique in your everyday life.

In “The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe” (s06e24), Doctor Who travels back to 1940s London, where he meets Madge Ardwell, her son Cyril, and daughter Lily.   Madge comes home to tell the kids that she is going to help The Doctor return to his time machine, as if this happened every day (who knows, maybe it does).  While there at home, Madge asks Cyril what he’s is doing up so late looking through his telescope.  When Lily makes a snide comment it begins this brief but quite funny exchange among the characters.

  • Cyril — It’s astronomy.
  • Lily — Don’t make up words.  He’s always making up things … and breathing.
  • Madge — Where’s your father?
  • Cyril — In the garden.
  • Madge — What’s he doing in the garden?
  • Cyril — Agriculture.
  • Lily [off-camera] — You’re not fooling anyone.

And you see?  Like that.  Or three scenes later, which is also three years later, the family is standing in front of an ancient house somewhere in the English countryside, and the kids say —

  • Cyril — Is it haunted?
  • Lily — Is it drafty?

Another sharp, understated exchange.

But if you’ve seen this episode you know this episode is not all fun and games. The kids’ father is killed when his bomber goes down over the English Channel (although that’s not quite the whole story), leading to nightmarish grief and stress for Madge.   This leads to a poignant scene where Madge admits this to The Doctor and reflects on her short temper around her children.

  • Madge — I don’t know why I keep shouting at them.
  • The Doctor — Because every time you see them happy you remember how sad they’re going to be.  And it breaks your heart.

What we see here is a dramatic turn, where the dry wit of British comedy gives way to the realities of life during World War II (or anytime for that matter).  And once again, Doctor Who, the show, and Doctor Who, the character, offer us a glimpse into the human condition.  After all, why do we love a rose?  Because it’s blooming but will not do so forever.  Why does it smell so divine?  Because its thorns are so sharp.

It’s always been my opinion that humor for the sake of humor gets stale after a while.  Even the best comedians — the Steve Martins and  Richard Pryors and George Carlins — cannot sustain me for long unless I have a break.  It doesn’t have to be something morbid or maudlin, but it does have to be balanced.   And I love humor.   In fact, I was once asked why I don’t watch Comedy Central all the time.  The answer is simple, really.  I don’t watch Comedy Central, or any other 24/7 source of laughter, because I don’t usually turn to comedians for jokes.  The best humor grows out of drama, to relieve the tension, or out of horror, to dispel the terror.  That’s why, in that famous line from Steel Magnolias, the characters reflect on the wonder of laughter through tears.

Which brings us back to “The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe.”  Doctor Who, the character, looks at Madge thoughtfully in this episode, and finally offers his advice.  And this is one of the many reasons I love this show.  The characters get to the heart of the matter so damn well.  In the scene I’ve described above, Madge is momentarily distracted by the distant sounds of the children’s glee, leading Doctor Who to say this:

  • The Doctor — What’s the point of them being happy now if they’re going to be sad later?  The answer is, of course, because they are going to be sad later.

Pretty good stuff for science fiction, eh?

Until next time, remember: Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can procrastinate about today.

Years truly,

Keith Parker, CEO, COO, CTO, CCO, CAC, COCOA of The PITTS*

Please visit my hometown bloggers at our Rocket City Bloggers website!

* The Parker Institute for Time Travel Studies.

Copyright © 2013 Keith Parker

Doctor Who is copyright © 2013 BBC

Lust

Clara_imageI’ve noticed I frequently post a picture of Doctor Who’s companions on my blog. Lest you think I’m a total lech, the main reason for doing this is to draw attention to my blog. After all, photos of Romana, Rose, Clara (pictured), or Susan have a lot more sex appeal than tintypes of septic tanks. That’s just good ol’ common sense. But there’s something deeper

something Freudian

about my consistent choice of hot babes pretty women to punctuate my web logging these days. And that “something” has to do with romance. In New Who — as well as many classic Who episodes with Tom Baker — there is a romantic tension that exists between the Doctor and his Companions. And the Doctor is usually unaware of it. And while he does show considerable affection for his mates on ye olde TARDIS the Doctor doesn’t seem to take a hint very well. You could justify this because he’s not human, or because the stakes are so high that he doesn’t have time for love, or because he’s immortal and will outlive whoever he does fall for. But really, the dude is just clueless. Women notice him, but he doesn’t reciprocate. And this characteristic, rather than being rude or chauvinistic, adds to his charm … or so it would seem.

(I will add parenthetically, which is why this paragraph is in parentheses, that the Doctor does notice his Companions from time-to-time. Clearly he is in deep anguish about Rose. And on a lighter note he chews his wrist off at the sight of Clara’s tight skirt. But these are exceptions, not the rule.)

So why am I so curious? I think it’s because at heart I’m a romantic. I’ve probably always known this, but I really had to admit it after a college friend reviewed my novel (here) and told me that my “adventure” was actually a “romance.” She was right. It turns out — through no fault of my own — that I am fascinated by the intercourse interplay between guys and girls. And Doctor Who (the man) is in many ways my own opposite. The beautiful girl is right under his nose and he completely misses her flirting, suggestiveness, or explicit passes.

How am I the opposite? Well, I was the one who noticed the girls back in the day. Another obsession we writers share is people watching. If I were attracted to a girl, no detail was too small to notice: her clothes, her eyeglasses, her legs, her jokes, her snorts, or that (unbelievably) cute way she’d have of tucking her hair under a baseball cap with the pony tail sticking out. And yet, ironically, romance was often elusive as hell.

“It’s not that you’re unattractive, Keith. I just don’t want a relationship right now,” she’d said, right before she started dating the other guy (we’ll call him David).

But this has a happy ending. After crossing that Rubicon from my teens to my twenties, I met the girl of my dreams; I even married her. But I spent many years wanting to be that Doctor Who archetype, that absent-minded, bumbling, good-looking free spirit. Maybe I am some of these things, some of the time. But I am not all of these things all of the time. He is not I, and vice versa in reverse. And we have to live with truths. So, whether you’re a plumber, artist, attorney, Time Lord, burglar, or engineer, it’s important to remember what that succinct bastard William Shakespeare said: “To thine own self be true.” You actually have no choice, no matter how many time machines you have.

Years truly,
Keith
(Bane of David)

Text copyright © 2013 by Keith Parker

The photo and Doctor Who are copyright © 2013 by the BBC

Soul

Doctor-Who-final

Okay, so I finally watched the Doctor Who Christmas Special from 2011 titled “The Doctor, Widow and the Wardrobe,” and reminded myself that I need to remind myself that I need to ask the question that famous SF author Connie Willis is constantly reminding herself to ask: “Do apes have souls?”

In this case, of course, the question would be better re-worded to ask whether trees have souls, and I’ll remind myself to do that at the end of this post.  But the sentiment is the same, isn’t it?

  • Reminder: Be sure to ask this question in multiple venues, including the office, church, and the next cocktail party I go to.
  • Reminder: Note the reactions.  The last time you did this people rolled their eyes and mumbled excuses to wander away.

But do they?  Do trees have souls?  Individually?  Collectively?  Are they … Borg?   Speaking of Borg, did you know that in one of the 1960s’ Doctor Who episodes the Daleks told The Doctor “resistance was useless”?  Coincidence?  Doubtful.  Germane to this blog?  Not in the least.

It’s a touching episode — “The Doctor, Widow, and the Wardrobe” — and even though I’m not a fan of C.S. Lewis, I found the homage delightful.  It’s certainly heart-warming, with a great time-travel paradox to wrap things up in a Christmastime bow.  Those always give me that “ooh ah” sense of wonder I love so much.

But I really did start waxing idiotic about the soul again.  It’s an ages-old question that won’t be solved here, but the question still lingers like the downed tree in the forest that nobody heard fall except Walt Whitman.

The answer is another question: Do we really know?  The atheist says he knows, and the theist says that he knows, while the Buddhist simply says to the hot dog vender: make me one with everything.

But if we have souls, then are our souls unique?  Or, are we part of a greater collective soul?  A collective consciousness, one German called it.  And is that the destiny of all living things?  Is that part of evolution?  Amy Pond is certainly part of evolution.  She’s pictured to the right, even though she — like The Borg — has nothing to do with this post.  Now that my obligatory lecherousness is out of the way, I can pose a few more questions, bullet-style:amy_pond

  • Ever wonder about entities that might become alive?
    • Like a virus, or the Internet.
  • Can there be a collective RNA?
  • Will a sentient Internet have a collective consciousness?
  • What if the plants and the trees and the birds and the bees are all part of our consciousness?
  • Whither the lions and tigers and bears?

And then, … and then, … and then you have to ask, does the universe itself have a consciousness?  Here are some more bullets for your consideration:

  • Is the universe alive?
  • Is the universe’s life force the same as what we call God?
  • Did Luke use The Force?
  • Why did my team just run 3 draw-plays in a row?
  • What about parallel universes?  Do they get souls, too?

It’s an interesting question isn’t it?  There are roughly 1082 particles in the universe.  What if they all compose a single mind?  Are they (it?) the source of morality, of genius … of art?  And what do we do about that one rebel (there’s always one) among us who asks, what about particle number 1082 + 1?

Is that lonely electron on its own?

One is, as the song says, the loneliest number.

That’s all for now.  Just some simple questions to ponder over a mug of beer (or six).  Oh, and remind me to talk about Doctor Who next time I post.  That really is what this blog is all about.  Well, that, and hot dogs.

Years truly,

Keith

Copyright © 2013

Doctor Who What When?

“Question is: What do you make of me?” ~ The Doctor

20130116-171135.jpg

I love Christmas Eve, so when the DVD of the BBC’s Doctor Who Christmas Special “The Next Doctor” (s04e14) arrived in the mail I was eager to dive right in. I was not disappointed. Since there are scads of reviews of Doctor Who episodes all over the Internet, what I wanted to do instead was give you an impression of one small slice of this episode.

After our Doctor (David Tennant) arrives via TARDIS on Christmas Eve, 1851, the history geek in me was thoroughly content to sit back and enjoy.

As Act One unfolds we’re given one of those treats time travel fiction does so well: Evoking that sense of wonder that much of science fiction has lost since those heady days of Astounding and Amazing Stories. In the opening scenes of “The Next Doctor” our Doctor meets a future incarnation of himself, a version of himself suffering from amnesia.

And that notion is one of the most compelling aspects of time travel: Meeting a past or future version of yourself (without the amnesia part; that’d sorta suck). In that first act, “Amnesia Doctor” is investigating the house where the character Jackson Lake was murdered by the show’s infamous villains and “Amnesia Doctor” gets into a rather lengthy conversation about the crime with our Doctor. After revealing more about the situation than he probably should, “Amnesia Doctor” pauses with confusion, and then says he trusts our Doctor completely and implicitly, telling him things he wouldn’t tell any ordinary stranger.

I actually paused the DVD at this point, finding that whole concept fascinating. I began to wonder whether I would trust myself with vital, personal secrets. If I went back in time — to 1983 or 1993 or 2003 — could I trust the man I was then with the knowledge that I have now? Or if I were to travel into the future with the help of an old English police box could I face my older, wiser self and explain why I’m doing “this” but not “that,” why I bought instead of saved, why I chose “Thing 1” over “Thing 2”?

This is what makes science fiction and fantasy — those twins of speculation separated at birth — such a compelling genre of literature. Allegories abound, sometimes banal, sometimes sublime, but always thought-provoking.

And we need to think and reflect and ponder and wonder, or at least I do. Time can be a merciless monster as well as a beneficent angel. But my genre — when it’s at its best — focuses on the latter. It chooses optimism over bitterness, hope instead of despair, and a reminder that tomorrow can be a better day if we’ll just make the choice to let it.

So, in conclusion, I’ll offer another brief quote from the show, and then go off searching for my own time machine. Where is the damn thing? I swear that beast has legs.

Jackson Lake — “That offer of Christmas dinner is no longer a request. It’s a demand.”
The Doctor — “In honor if those we’ve lost.”

As always,
Peace, from Keith

Commentary copyright (c) 2013, Alan Keith Parker. Quotes and images are copyright (c) 2012, BBC, and used here under fair use laws.

Do Writers Need a Blog?

The Christmas holidays gave me some time to reflect on writing and the flu, which are an oddly similar afflictions.  One of thing that I kept circling back to was this question: Do we writers need to have blogs?

Nessie

I started this blog back in 2011 to give out free writing advice, for what it’s worth.  I then rebooted it last year to focus on writing science fiction or — as I call it at cocktail parties — sex scenes.

But seriously, even under the huge umbrella of science fiction, fantasy and horror, I don’t really have a focus.  Just think about all the things I’m interested in:

  • Science fiction
  • College football
  • Fantasy
  • Television
  • Home improvement projects (I even do windows)
  • Time travel
  • The Civil War
  • Creative writing
  • Computer modeling
  • Graphics
  • JFK
  • Encyclopedias
  • Maps
  • Atlases
  • Classic rock
  • Cuba
  • Gnosticism
  • Humor
  • Horror
  • World War II
  • Beer
  • Collecting books
  • The Cold War
  • Old school D&D
  • Pencil-sketching
  • Restaurants

This is pretty typical of writers, being interested in lot of stuff.  We’re sponges.  We’d probably make good Jeapordy contestants.

My dilemma is that I have the attention span of a puppy running through a pet store.  If I start writing a time travel story today, by Friday I’ll shelve it and start working on a nonfiction piece about beer.  I’ve written three novels, hundreds of short stories, and enough blog entries for a decent book.

Sure, I’ve been pimping my one published novel and my thin collection of published shorts (not boxers), but my writing has not exactly zoomed into the stratosphere.  And I’ve been doing this for 20 years.

So, why continue with this blog?  This isn’t a pity-party.  I’m not slumped-shouldered (except when grave-robbing).  I’m asking a real question: Do writers need a blog?  I’d be curious to hear your thoughts.

Until next time,

Peace, from Keith

Copyright © 2013 Alan Keith Parker

The World Inside My Globe

keithTo the left is a studio photograph of me that was taken right before the 1968 moon mission when Lovell, Anders, and Borman took the incomparable “Earth Rise” shown below.

As you know, I like to blog about science fiction and time travel, as well as love and fear.  And you may be thinking the Christmas Eve Apollo Mission, with its iconic photo and the reading from Genesis, is the reason for that love of spaceships and ray guns.  But oddly enough, it’s not.  I was in awe of our astronaut heroes, to be sure, but I found my own globe that day, and I still explore it 44 years later.earth rise

You see, a red Christmas ornament hung from the family tree.  I remember sitting under that pine (yeah, I was that small … or the tree was that big … or both) staring into the ornament as it hung on a low branch next to a huge, multi-pane window in our living room.  We lived on “The Mountain” in those days, a magical era for those who know Huntsville.

That crimson globe was situated so it reflected the cedars and evergreens in our front yard. a corner of the wood cabinet TV set where we would watch that incredible moon mission, and a supernatural illusion of myself, sitting in a parallel world that was so close that I could touch it … almost.

globeAnd I remember that little boy wondering, How can I get into the world inside that Christmas ornament?  It was the most beautiful red, much like the photo to the left.

And, of course, what I was thinking was not a revolutionary thought.  Not by a long shot.  It was not groundbreaking or ingenious.  Ever since there have been reflecting pools and looking glasses, children have gazed inside them and wondered where that special world is.  I was no different.  Except … except that I am unique, just as you are.  The images are mine alone, just as yours are yours alone.  And my fascination with parallel worlds that are just like ours — only not quite  — is why I do what I do.  It’s why I’m enthralled by fantasy and speculative fiction.  It’s why I ask, “What if?”

And …… It’s also why I try to inject humor when I can because, while I was mesmerized by that spectral image, my older brother crept up behind me and thumped me on the top of the head.  “Yikes, that hurt!” I said.  And it did hurt, but that,  my friends, was also the best Christmas present I’ve ever gotten.

Have a happy and safe holiday season.

Peace, as always, from Keith.

Copyright © 2012, Alan Keith Parker.  All Rights Reserved.